SB1070: The Problem, Not the Answer

The American experience is an immigrant experience. Throughout our history, immigrants from every corner of the earth have come to America in search of freedom and opportunity. Each new immigrant generation has made unique contributions to our national greatness - from building the great cities of the 19th century to founding the great technology companies of the 21st century. In the words of President John. F. Kennedy, "immigrants everywhere have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life."

But it is difficult to celebrate this proud tradition when we must regrettably mark the second anniversary of Arizona's draconian anti-immigration law, SB 1070. This law and similar laws enacted in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah reject our deeply held national values of inclusion and integration. Well outside the mainstream of American immigration politics, these laws embrace the extreme policy of self-deportation.

Let's be clear about what this means. It means making life so miserable for undocumented migrants that they will leave. It means using the fear and the threat of force to uproot hardworking people, separate them from their families, their communities and hound them out of the country. This is as unrealistic as it is unwise and cruel. There is not a single problem that we face as a nation that will be solved by deporting millions of hard-working immigrant families who have reaffirmed the American dream over and over again. And what we have seen over the past two years is that state anti-immigration laws simply don't work. States can't deport people. These laws don't reduce illegal immigration, and only result in immigrants moving to other states or further into the shadows.

State "show me your papers" laws, however, do undermine the civil rights of millions of Americans who have lived here for decades. They require police officers to ask anyone who is "suspect" for their citizenship papers, abandoning the bedrock American legal principle of innocent until proven guilty.

At a time when our country grows increasingly diverse by the day, these laws encourage discrimination against people based solely on how they look or how they speak. Is it right for a military veteran to get asked for his papers just because he's of Mexican heritage? Is it right for a mother of Asian background who speaks with an accent to get asked for her papers - right in front of her children? A state law that encourages discrimination is flat out wrong. That's not who we are as a nation.

Over the past two years, mayors and police chiefs from all over the country have argued against state "show me your papers" laws, and for good reason. These laws undermine the core mission of public safety by diverting limited law enforcement resources away from more serious crimes and by forcing police officers to arrest those who pose no real danger to the community. We also know that the culture of suspicion and fear that these laws foster will make it less likely for individuals to come forward to report crime. This will undermine public safety in our communities.

There is no question that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. I share the frustration that many Americans feel about Congress' lack of progress on this important issue. State 'show me your papers' laws are not the solution. They make matters worse. After Alabama adopted its anti-immigrant law, farm workers left the state and crops rotted in the fields. SB 1070 has given Arizona a reputation for discrimination and cost the state an estimated $145 million in convention business. When teachers in Alabama were forced to become immigration agents, students were afraid to attend school.

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the constitutionality of SB1070. This is a momentous case. If the Supreme Court reinstates SB 1070, the civil rights of millions of Americans will be harmed, the safety and security of communities across the country will be compromised and other states will have the green light to proceed down Arizona's misguided path. We will become an America increasingly divided between states that want to welcome immigrants and those that want to expel them.

We don't need a confusing patchwork of 50 state immigration laws. We need a federal solution. This is what both common sense and the Constitution require.

By rejecting SB 1070, the Supreme Court can send the clear signal to our national leaders in Washington, DC that they must step up to the plate and meet their responsibility to enact well-designed, bipartisan federal policy.

We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. We need comprehensive immigration reform. SB 1070 is not the answer.